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Aspirin is a Hundred-Year Miracle Drug

Aspirin is the Rodney Dangerfield of the drug world. It gets very little respect even though studies show this drug has powerful anti-cancer effects.

For a drug that has been around for more than 100 years and only costs pennies per dose, aspirin still makes a lot of news. Nearly every other week there is another headline about the health benefits of aspirin.

Aspirin vs. Melanoma

Danish researchers reported that people who take aspirin, ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are less likely to develop skin cancer (Cancer, online May 29, 2012). These medications prevented both squamous cell carcinoma and the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.

Aspirin vs. Colorectal Cancer

This might come as a surprise but for additional evidence that aspirin can help prevent many different kinds of cancer. Last year a study demonstrated that people at very high risk of colorectal cancer because of hereditary susceptibility can substantially reduce their chance of developing the disease if they take 600 mg of aspirin daily (Lancet, Dec. 17, 2011). Because this was a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, the results are very convincing to skeptical scientists.

Aspirin vs. Cancer of the Esophagus, Breast & Stomach

Many other studies support these findings. One meta-analysis of 51 randomized controlled trials including 77,549 participants found that aspirin reduced cancer incidence and mortality (Lancet, April 28, 2012). Another analysis found that aspirin offered long-term protection against cancers of the esophagus, breast and stomach as well as against colon cancer (Lancet Oncology, May, 2012).

Aspirin vs. Lung Cancer

Aspirin may also help prevent one of the deadliest and most common cancers. A recent case-control study from China showed that women who took aspirin twice a week for at least a month were nearly 50 percent less likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer. That was among non-smokers. Among women who smoked, the reduction was 62 percent (Lung Cancer, online, April 5, 2012).

Aspirin vs. Cancer Metastases

Even more exciting, aspirin may also reduce the risk of cancer metastasis. There are relatively few treatments that can keep cancer from spreading to distant parts of the body once a cancer diagnosis is made. Scientists have found that cancers of the colon were one-third less likely to spread when people were taking daily aspirin doses (Lancet Oncology, May, 2012).

Aspirin’s ability to lower the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes by preventing blood clots in arteries may seem like old news. That’s because researchers have been reporting on this benefit for at least 60 years.

Aspirin vs. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVTs)

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (May 24, 2012) now reports that aspirin can prevent recurrent blood clots in the deep veins of the legs. Before this research, most patients who experienced a deep vein thrombosis were put on long-term anticoagulant medicine. The new data suggest that aspirin can be an effective and low-cost follow-up after warfarin therapy is discontinued.

Aspirin Dangers

Aspirin is not perfectly safe, and no one should initiate life-long aspirin therapy without medical supervision. Aspirin can interact with many drugs and may cause stomach irritation and bleeding.

That said, very few drugs continue to reveal life-saving secrets so many years after their discovery. Who knows what the next aspirin breakthrough might be?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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